One of the best films of the 21st century so far and a defining mark of LGBT+ cinema, Todd Haynes’ Carol is a film swimming in emotion as it explores the realities of a lesbian relationship in the 1950s. Adapted by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith’s controversial novel The Price of Salt, Carol tells the story of Therese Bellevet (Rooney Mara), a young twenty-something trying to find her way in 1950s New York. Whilst working as a Christmas temp in a busy department store, Therese has a love at first sight encounter with Carol (Cate Blanchett), an older soon-to-be divorcee who is a darling to New York society. Much like the Christmas backdrop, the film is a present revealing more layers with every watch.
Haynes pulls out all of the stops for this production, playing all of his cards as a visionary. He managed to take the words on the page and create a universe that seems to belong to Carol and Therese. From the costumes by Sandy Powell to the music by Carter Burwell, the film is orchestrated by a beauty that stays throughout the film. What made the novel so controversial on release was its happy ending which was unheard of for stories regarding homosexuality and Haynes wanted to keep that. He wants the audience to know that this is their world and it is a beautiful one. The film appears traditional on the surface and yet groundbreaking in subtext. I think it is a huge mark in LGBT filmmaking.
The script by Phyllis Nagy is nothing short of phenomenal and is brilliantly faithful to the book. The changes that are made from the book are minimal but also crucial as I think the right choices were made to tell this story onscreen. My favourite scene in the film is when Therese agrees to go to lunch with Carol and the two get to know each other. It is natural and intimate with the sexual tension cutting through the undertones. Nagy makes every word linger and makes sure that no line is wasted. The film is fantastically paced, feeling like a slow train chugging forwards towards the inevitable climax that causes their bubble to burst. The sharp focus on the women themselves makes their love appear literally timeless, as if the world around them doesn’t matter. When the outside world does interfere and threaten them, it is done so that the audience is jolted back into reality from the dream that the women’s relationship had given.
Cate Blanchett’s performance as the titular character is glamorous to look at but tinged with the pain that has fallen on her and her family as her relationship with her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler) has broken down. Carol has been known for her relationships with women, namely her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson), who has remained a constant in her life after their romance ended. Blanchett takes control of the screen and is so captivating with every glance and word. There is an inevitable sadness that surrounds Carol even as she embarks on her love affair with Therese as she knows that the chances of their relationship surviving against the 1950s society isn’t likely. Her maturity and knowledge of the world allows her to be a mentor of sorts towards Therese as she knows how she is feeling.
Rooney Mara’s performance as Therese is the audience’s way into the events of the film as hers is the primary perspective throughout the film save for one or two scenes regarding the custody of Carol’s young daughter. Mara won the Best Actress Award at Cannes Film Festival and it’s easy to see where. Therese is at a very conflicting time in her life. Where Carol is assured and secure in her own sexuality, Therese doesn’t quite know what she wants or even understand her feelings at first. As the film unfolds, Therese becomes more confident and independent, breaking off her relationship with partner, Richard and focuses on her career and blossoming relationship with Carol.
Overall, I really recommend you check Carol out if you haven’t seen it. I can’t count how many times I have watched it despite it only being a few years old but I always found something new to focus on whether that is the score or set design. A film that was sorely overlooked by the Academy when it came to the Oscars, Carol will no doubt be a film that critics and film buffs will be looking back on fondly.
What did you think of Carol? Let me know what you think in the comments below!